For a time this fall I tried watching CNBC to understand the economic crisis a bit better, presuming that its all-business news format would provide at least a sliver of enlightenment.
But its sports talk radio style turned me off and I tuned out after a few weeks, frustrated by constant shouting, sparring and relentless hyperbole about unfettered free market capitalism. You don’t have to be a socialist to think that perhaps all that was missing from this non-stop cheerleading was ESPN’s Stuart Scott blurting “Booyah!” Then again, with Jim Cramer’s mad shrieking, Scott wouldn’t have been able to say anything more than “boo.”
I should have kept watching, listening and paying attention to what was coming from the mouths of CNBC’s on-air “personalities.” I’m glad the folks over at “The Daily Show” did after CNBC loudmouth Rick Santelli blew off a guest appearance last week.
Not only did Jon Stewart admonish him for a “bailout” of sorts, but the comedian launched a devastating assault on the cable outlet’s leading role as a stenographer to now-disgraced Masters of the Universe.
I’m probably piling on here by linking to the Stewart clip since it’s been all the rage in the journosphere, but it’s quite obviously the reigning media Kvetch of the Week and perhaps of this millennium as well.
There are plenty of great zingers in this 8-minute clip, but none better than this one:
“If I’d only followed CNBC’s advice, I’d have $1 million today . . . provided I’d started with $100 million.”
And the critiques of Stewart’s critique have continued ever since, especially those tying the episode to the journalism profession. Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News thinks it’s a “teachable moment” for battered newsrooms, illustrated by the simple use of great research (video clips) over insider access (CNBC’s stock-in-trade with the Wall Street elite).
A few more takes are here and here. A piece in today’s New York Times violates one of Bunch’s rules with its exceptional balance, dutifully summarizing the Stewart flap and revealing how unjournalistic CNBC’s hosts truly are. But then again, “CNBC is a boon to NBC Universal’s bottom line.” Curiously, the Times lets Stewart make the substantive argument about how catastrophically wrong CNBC’s coverage has been for more than a year.
If I had not seen Stewart’s kvetch, or had not followed the reaction to it, I might read the Times piece and shrug my shoulders about the whole matter. Even the lead paragraph — “Was last week the worst one in CNBC’s 20-year history — or the best?” — precludes a serious analysis of how the media, from the sobering Gray Lady of the Times to rip-and-roar snorting on CNBC, wasn’t paying much more attention to the coming meltdown than Wall Street titans, leading economists or government officials.
Instead, it was a “fake” journalist who cut deeper to the truth. Jim Cramer fires back at Stewart and anyone else critical of him.
But the damage has been done, and later last week Stewart appeared with David Letterman, who took down John McCain during the presidential campaign for canceling an appearance on “The Late Show,” supposedly to return to Washington to deal with the economy. Instead, McCain was seen on tape getting makeup to appear with CBS news host Katie Couric.
Lesson here: Blow off these comedians at your own risk. It’s highly unlikely, however, that Santelli or anyone else from CNBC will trudge to the set of Stewart’s show, like McCain did with Letterman, to offer a mea culpa.
In its attitude-driven attempt to cover business news like entertainers, CNBC received a choice lesson from a professional entertainer who shows more journalistic chops than many media watchdogs. This analysis of Stewart’s place in current popular culture is not a new one, but his work last week might be his most powerful example yet that he’s much more than a comedian: